Taking a little time to learn about a place before visiting can really enhance the experience. Some of our relatives have been known the check out lots of books from the library to fully research a subject before an adventure to a far off land. In our case we happen to have been reading about John Adams when the opportunity arose on our trip to Massachusetts to take a tour of his homes in Quincy.

While I recognize that a stop at John Adam’s house in Massachusetts isn’t a Sunday road trip from Los Angeles, to paraphrase a Boston comedian, any place is within driving distance if you have the time. No, I’m not really suggesting that this is likely to be on your road trip agenda, but rather, I think our experience at John Adam’s house was a parable for how to manage such an excursion. Also, I thought you might like to hear about where John and Abigail Adams lived.

When taking a family vacation, the interest level young children will have for particular activity often dictates the agenda. Two things can help inspire children to share your interest: starting them young at whatever it is, and not overtaxing them. In the case of road trips, we have started our children off as babies driving for long periods of time to get places. We have told them we are a road trip family and that we love road trips. Once we have gotten to where we set out for, we try not to demand their attention for more time than is deemed reasonable. In the case of hikes, we have learned through trial and error how many miles can be hiked pleasantly. In the case of visiting historic sites or museums, finding things of special interest and not staying too long help make it manageable if not all together enjoyable.

We started the John Adams tour at the National Park Service headquarters/gift shop in historic downtown Quincy. This allowed for the opportunity to get acquainted with who John Adams was and what life was like in Colonial America with books and objects geered toward children as well as adults. Plus we were able to negotiate how to do only part of the official tour, as visiting all the houses on the itinerary was an unrealistic expectation, especially on this hot summer day. Once we bought tickets we parked in front of John and Abigail’s home in their later years, Peacefield, and ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in the car. (Yes, I made them in the car, and we ate them in the car.) We joined up with a group outside the front door of Peacefield and listened as the tour guide warned us to be very careful because all the contents of the house were authentic possessions of the Adams family and that a lady in another group had knocked over a priceless lamp with her pocketbook. As we weren’t allowing anyone who couldn’t control themselves to run free, we decided to venture forth into a house, and wow, were we in for a treat.

Peacefield was absolutely packed with amazing antiques of historical value. In the kitchen stood a 380 year old grandfather clock given as a wedding present to John and Abigail. It was already 100 years old when they received it and a later generation Adams had nearly thrown it away, not realizing its value. The tour guides wind the clock every week and it still keeps perfect time. The china cabinet was filled with dishes from their travels abroad and throughout the house were portraits of Adams, friends, and relatives. Somewhere in the house one can find images of Washington, Jefferson, and even Teddy Roosevelt (a friend of a later Adams), and in the study, John Adams’ famous wingback chair.

Much is known about John Adams’ life and times because of the correspondence he kept with his wife, with his friend Thomas Jefferson, his own memoirs, and the marginalia found in his extensive library. The Adams family had a huge collection of books and it wasn’t just for show; some books have more words written in the margins by John Adams than words printed on the page. Adams was very opinionated, and expressed his opinions even to himself. On the page of one book, curators found the word “Fool” written, with three exclamation points. I imagine it was something political. In another book, a piece of paper had been discovered, tucked away by John Adams at some point. On it was a list he had made of reasons why people liked George Washington better than they liked him. He mentioned that he was too opinionated.

Also in the library was John Adams’ traveling desk, on which many famous documents and letters were written, and another famous desk; that of his son John Quincy Adams, who had used his desk for many years while in Congress, a position he held after serving as President.

The tour of the one house was more than enough for the kids and we were ready to head to Brookline to round up some food for dinner. I know that “visiting a historic site” is not usually number one on a child’s list of things to do on vacation, but it is possible to find something that will interest them, especially if it something they can connect to or relate to. This may take some creativity, planning, a little research, but it is well worth it.